Law and Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 419-451

First online:

Naturalism in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Law

  • Mark GreenbergAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy and School of Law, UCLA Email author 

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In this paper, I challenge an influential understanding of naturalization according to which work on traditional problems in the philosophy of law should be replaced with sociological or psychological explanations of how judges decide cases. W.V. Quine famously proposed the ‘naturalization of epistemology’. In a prominent series of papers and a book, Brian Leiter has raised the intriguing idea that Quine’s naturalization of epistemology is a useful model for philosophy of law. I examine Quine’s naturalization of epistemology and Leiter’s suggested parallel and argue that the parallel does not hold up. Even granting Leiter’s substantive assumption that the law is indeterminate, there is no philosophical confusion or overreaching in the legal case that is parallel to the philosophical overreaching of Cartesian foundationalism in epistemology. Moreover, if we take seriously Leiter’s analogy, the upshot is almost the opposite of what Leiter suggests. The closest parallel in the legal case to Quine’s position would be the rejection of the philosophical positions that lead to the indeterminacy thesis.